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FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

While the government of India generally respected freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the constitution of India, the State governments, political party activists and various armed opposition groups often violated this right. At least one journalist was killed by the armed opposition group Maoist Communist Centre in Bihar, while many faced physical violence from the political party activists, police, and the armed opposition groups.

The press in Tamil Nadu faced systematic assault from the State government in 2002 and 2003. On 18 May 2004, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa announced her government’s decision to withdraw all the defamation cases brought by the Government against the media, including those against The Hindu, which figured in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly in November 2003. [1] On 30 August 2004, the Tamil Nadu government told the Additional Sessions Court in Chennai that it had issued an order dropping two of the 20 defamation cases filed against The Hindu. One case related to a news item published on 2 December 2002 with the heading “Security cordon for Chief Minister throws IT interviews out of gear” while the second published a day later pertained to the replacement of state Chief Secretary Suganeswar by Lakshmi Pranesh. [2]

On 17 September 2004, Tamil Nadu government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, along with a copy of the “Government Order” issuing directions for withdrawal of all the 125 defamation cases against The Hindu and other newspapers and magazines pending before the Additional Sessions Court, Chennai and the Madras High Court. [3]

In July 2004, the State government of Manipur imposed censorship on the local cable network news after it showed the footage of the demonstration of Meira Paibis, women activists, who stripped themselves in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters on 15 July 2004 to protest against the killing of Manorama Devi.

The journalists also faced violent attacks from the police and other law enforcement personnel while covering events and collecting news.

On 23 July 2004, Thiyam Ranjan Singh, a senior reporter of vernacular daily Sanaleibak was allegedly assaulted by personnel of Manipur Rifles and State police at his residence at Keishampat Leimajam Leikai. The security forces knocked at the door of Ranjan’s house and assaulted him by kicking with boots and hitting with gun butts in spite of identifying himself as a media person by producing his press identity card. The reporter sustained head injuries and had to be hospitalized. Following protests, three riflemen of 2nd Battalion Manipur Rifles- Kh Kesho Singh (Rfn No 09941018), M Tomba Singh (Rfn No 09981201) Yamtong Haokip (Rfn No 23039), and a State police constable identified as Md Azad Khan were reportedly suspended on 23 July 2004. [4]

On 17 April 2004, Assam Police personnel forced many people including women and journalist, Kunja Mohan Roy to kneel down for half an hour by the side of the road during a check near the Guwahati Commerce College. The police were reportedly searching for the ULFA cadres. [5] On 18 April 2004, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi reportedly ordered a probe into the incident headed by Additional Chief Secretary S. Kabilan. [6]  

On 13 May 2004, over a dozen journalists were injured in the assault by the police at a vote counting center in the government polytechnic institute at Gandhinagar and at Bikram Chowk, in Jammu. Police reportedly lathicharged and brutally assaulted female scribes at polytechnic institute. When scribes blocked the road at Bikram Chowk protesting the assault on the female scribes, the police resorted to lathicharge. At least three journalists had to be shifted to Government medical college hospital for treatment. [7]

At least 10 persons including the correspondent of Assamese daily Dainik Janambhumi based at Jamugurihat, Golap Kalita and his wife Anjali Kalita, were seriously injured when a group of Assam Police Black Panther commandoes attacked the innocent public of Karchantola area in Sonitpur district of Assam on 27 June 2004 night at around 8.30 pm. The Assam Police personnel in civil dress took country liquor at a local hotel of Karchantola Centre after which they quarreled with businessmen. Two cases have been registered on the basis of the FIR lodged by Babul Borah and Golap Kalita at Jamuguri Police Station and the District Collector of Sonitpur, LS Changsan has also ordered a magisterial probe into the incident headed by Unnat Baruah, SDO (Sadar), Tezpur. [8]

The Assam government continued to deny academic freedom. On 14 November 2004, Japanese research fellow Makiko Mimura was stopped from presenting her research paper on Nellie massacre of 1983 at a seminar organized in Guwahati. [9]

On the night of 27 November 2004, Star News cameraman and Government accredited journalist Sharad Kapoor was illegally detained by the police at the TT Nagar police station in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh after he was picked up from his house without any arrest warrant. The police suspected him of stealing police wireless set at Panchseel Nagar, where a police party reached to sort out a group clash, where the journalist was also allegedly involved. The police allegedly manhandled female members of Sharad Kapoor’s family at the time of arrest. When Star TV bureau chief Deshdeep Saxena reached at the police station to seek bail, Saxena was allegedly threatened of dire consequences. Police refused to give Kapoor bail although the sections against him were bailable. When Kapoor sought to lodge a complaint against manhandling of female members of his family, he was threatened to be booked under charges of robbery. Later on, a representation made to the Chief Minister Babulal Gaur by senior scribes including Hindustan correspondent Dinesh Gupta, Sahara Correspondent Sanjeev Shrivastav and India TV Correspondent Anurag Updhyay. The Chief Minister ordered a probe into the incident. [10]

Political activists also continued their attacks on the media.

On 28 August 2004, Nikhil Wagle, editor of a Marathi daily, Mahanagar, and two other journalists- Yuvraj Mohite and Pramod Nigudkar, were attacked by alleged members of Shiv Sena at Malvan in Sindhudurg district. An attempt was made to blacken the editor’s face and all the three journalists were beaten him. They were reportedly badly injured in the attack. On 24 August 2004, Sajid Rashid, editor of the Hindi daily, Hamara Mahanagar, was stabbed near his office by two persons. He had to be admitted in a hospital. Mr. Rashid is a member of Muslims for Secular Democracy that has been demanding an end to the practice of triple ‘talaq.’ [11]

On 12 November 2004,  Anal Abedin, a reporter of Anandabazar Patrika, a leading daily newspaper in West Bengal was attacked by masked attackers. They attacked his wife Tandra Abedin and two year old daughter. When Tandra Abedin managed to grab one of the attackers and exposed his face, she saw that he was Akbar Kabir alias Babul Kabir, the ex-chairman of Berhampur Municipality. As the leader was recognized, the attackers ran away immediately. On 13 November 2004, the Berhampore Police arrested 15 out of 30 suspects including Mr. Akbar Kabir, out of 30 suspects.  They were subsequently produced before the Sub Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM) Court, Beharampore on the charges of attempt to murder, use of arms and weapons, molestation, illegal gathering and illegal house trespass. But all of them were released on bail immediately although they were arrested under non-bailable charges.  The culprits were granted bail because the police failed to produce important records before the magistrate including the medical report, case diary and seizure report. The public prosecutor who was supposed to oppose the bail application was also absent which resulted in the perpetrators bail applications going unopposed. [12]

Lawyers at the metropolitan magistrates’ court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat assaulted television crews and other members of the media on the evening of 29 January 2004. At least four mediapersons were seriously injured, and the irate mob of lawyers even burnt a Zee TV camera within the court premises. The lawyers were protesting against Zee TV’s exposure of the metropolitan magistrate of Court No. 10 of Meghaninagar, Brahm Bhatt, who had issued the bailable warrants against President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Chief Justice V. N. Khare, Supreme Court judge B.P. Singh and former Supreme Court Bar Association president R.K. Jain. Around 60 lawyers attacked Zee News cameramen Subodh Vyas and correspondent Janak Dave, Aaj Tak correspondent Rajiv Patel and cameramen Quasar Khan. All of them were beaten and their clothes torn. An FIR has been filed at Meghaninagar police against the lawyers for attacking the mediapersons. [13]

The Assam Police in Lakhimpur area harassed the journalists in connection with the news of death of five ULFA cadres in an encounter with the Army on 29 October 2004 near Laluk in the district. On the pretext of a discussion, the Lakhimpur Superintendent of Police had invited the journalists for a meeting, but later started using intimidatory tactics to know the source behind the news items published in their respective newspapers. [14]

The armed opposition groups were also responsible for silencing the right to freedom of expression.

The alleged cadres of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) shot dead Naveen Kumar Verma, a local journalist of Patna-based Hindi daily Dainik Jagran in Gaya district of Bihar on 24 April 2004. Verma was reportedly abducted from his residence at Nima village under Amas police station and shot dead from point blank range in a nearby field. [15]

The Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) reportedly issued summons to nine Bakaro-based journalists for allegedly writing anti-MCC articles during the April-May 2004 Lok Sabha election. In a press release issued by MCC north zonal secretary Arun Kumar, the scribes have been asked to argue their cases before a Jan Adalat. [16]

On 3 May 2004, eight persons including a photojournalist Habibullah Naqash were reportedly injured in a grenade explosion at Press Enclave Pratap Park in Srinagar of Jammu and Kashmir. The grenade exploded outside the residential quarter of journalist turned politician (PDP candidate for Baramulla-Kupwara Lok Sabha constituency) Nizam-u-Din Bhat. [17]

On 25 April 2004, armed opposition groups’ members reportedly hurled a grenade at a PDP election rally minutes after party chief Mehbooba Mufti left the venue, killing three persons and injuring seven at Khool-Noorabad in Anantnag district. Ten persons, including NDTV cameraman S. Tariq, were reportedly injured in the blast, of which three of them later succumbed to their injuries. [18]

At around 7.30 pm on 22 November 2004, unidentified persons allegedly hurled a grenade inside the office of an Urdu newspaper Tameel-e-Irshad and its sister news agency KPS, located on the first floor of a building at Lambert Lane- Regal Chowk in Srinagar. Two employees of the newspaper were injured in the attack. [19]


[1] . Jayalalithaa withdraws defamation cases against media, The Hindu, 19 May 2004

[2] . TN govt drops two cases against ‘The Hindu, The Times of India, 31 August 2004

[3] . Tamil Nadu files affidavit to withdraw 125 defamation cases against media, The Hindu, 18 September 2004

[4] . Scribe assaulted, MR men suspended, The Sanngaiexpress, 24 July 2004

[5] . Highhandedness of police condemned, The Assam Tribune, 18 April 2004

[6] . Panel to probe cop excesses, The Telegraph, 19 April 2004

[7] . 12 scribes injured in police hooliganism, The Kashmir Times, 14 May 2004

[8] . Magisterial probe ordered into Karchantola incident, The Sentinel, 3 July 2004

[9] . The Asian Age, 15 November 2004.

 

[10] . Highhanded cops keep scribes from rescuing colleague, The Pioneer, 30 November 2004

[11] . Editor of Marathi daily attacked, The Hindu, 29 August 2004

[12] . UA-162-2004: INDIA: Police inaction provides ample opportunity for criminals to walk free, Asian Human Rights Commission - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM, 25 November 2004

[13] . Lawyers sting back, attack Zee, The Asian Age, 30 January 2004

[14] . Dhemaji slams Lakhimpur SP action, The Sentinel, 9 November 2004

[15] . Naxals kill scribe in Bihar, The Bihar Times, 26 April 2004

[16] . 9 scribes summoned to Naxalite court, The Deccan Herald, 18 May 2004

[17] . 8 media persons injured in blast, The Kashmir Times, 4 May 2004

[18] . Grenade attack at Mehbooba’s rally, The Tribune, 26 April 2004

[19] . Grenade attack in Valley’s news agency office The Kashmir Times, 23 November 2004